It was only ever going to be a one-team race, though, as Man City paved the way for Guardiola by hiring Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, two former key figures in Barca’s organization and Guardiola’s close friends.
February 1st marks the end of the transfer window in England, but the biggest thing on everyone’s mind, without a doubt, is how drastically the Premier League landscape will change with the master of the tiki-taka in the picture. Here’s a look at what Manchester City might look like after Manuel Pellegrini leaves at the end of the season.
Top Eleven has already mentioned how the great mind of Johan Cruyff has impacted Guardiola’s own ideas and brought about new concepts in the game. Whilst Pep’s tactical ploys have differed during his time in Barcelona and Bayern, some long-term peculiarities of his are hard to miss.
The Catalan’s sides thrive in possession football, dominating their opponents by playing a simple passing game and creating multiple passing options through the famous “triangles”, brought about with constant player movement. Bayern’s average possession in the Bundesliga of 2015/2016 is at 63%, while the passing rate has gone up to an unworldly 89%, which is hardly a surprise. Manchester City already have a technically gifted squad capable of keeping the ball and passing it how they want, and a couple of additions could mark a new era and ensure a smooth rebuilding process for the four-time champions of England.
In the unlikely case that short passing falls short of the initial expectations, Guardiola could instantly and effortlessly change the style of play. In the 2013/14 Bundesliga campaign, Bayern played the most long balls (81 per game); the following season, they played the fewest (67). Two and a half years ago, the Bavarian team managed to bypass Jurgen Klopp’s counter-pressing methods with occasional timely long passes.
Discussing Guardiola’s potential preferred formation(s) in his new managerial role would be tricky, mainly due to the fluidity and flexibility of his teams. Pep expects his players to be involved heavily in attack, overloading the flanks with overlapping defenders and pushing the defensive line as far as possible in order to get a tighter grip on the opposition. Movement such as this creates advantages in numbers on certain parts of the pitch – this is where the ultra-skilled players come into action and use one-on-one situations to wreak havoc by assisting or scoring themselves. The likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling would have no problem playing in a setup like this; Sergio Aguero, too, is certainly not helpless when it comes to creating spaces for shots himself.
An educated guess would be predicting a 4-3-3 system Guardiola used at Camp Nou with constant and coherent pressing, balanced movement and the ability to accentuate the qualities of its stars. But, as writers at FourFourTwo note, the variety of his tactics puts him on another planet in the galaxy of elite coaches; so sophisticated is his thinking that concepts take months and even years to teach. Systems vary from game to game, from minute to minute. Last season Bayern lined up in an absolutely staggering 10different formations: 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, 4-1-3-2, 4-1-2-1-2, 3-4-3, 3-4-2-1, 3-5-2, 3-1-4-2 and a 3-4-3 diamond.
Manchester City can’t complain about having a team lacking in quality. Yet, there are some glaring problems in Pellegrini’s side which have caused the Chilean quite a few headaches. The first among them – age. The aforementioned De Bruyne and Sterling, along with Eliaquim Mangala, are the only key players who have not yet turned 27. Yaya Toure is 32, David Silva 30, and Kompany will turn 30 in April this year. With the extreme congestion a Premier League club has to face each year, all the physical strains can wear players down in the blink of an eye, which means City might need fresh blood to truly dominate their opponents. Three names at the top of Pep’s shortlist: Ilkay Gundogan, Aymeric Laporte and Thiago Alcantara.
Alcantara is an obvious choice, as the young midfielder has already worked with Pep in Barca and Bayern. His prowess on the ball, passing ability and agility could make him a perfect offensive cog in City’s offensive machinery. Gundogan would assume a somewhat deeper position in the midfield and spray his passes long or look for the obvious choice to keep the impetus on his team’s side, a role similar to that of Xavi. Finally, the boy who grew up under the influence of Marcelo Bielsa – Aymeric Laporte– would be a great solution to City’s defensive woes with Demichelis and Otamendi.
There is another important aspect of leading a football club to glory Guardiola can offer The Citizens – the mentality of a true winner. Known for his man management, Pep likes to talk to each and every one of his players and discuss how everyone can get better on and off the pitch. He carefully takes time to explain seemingly trivial things to players – how to improve a faulty first touch, how to make the right decision at the right time. Bayern’s soon-to-be ex-coach is a relatively laid back guy, but his philosophy gets players fired up and working as hard as possible. As noted by Alex Clapham of the Outside of the Boot blog, Guardiola once invited Lionel Messi into his office for a session of video-analyzing. What he said can be used to define the so called “False Nine” role in football:
“Tomorrow in Madrid I want you to start on the wing as usual, but the minute I give you a sign I want you to move away from the midfielders and into the space I just showed you. The moment Xavi or Iniesta break between the lines and give you the ball I want you to head straight for Casillas’ goal”
This is a trait of a football genius of the highest caliber – adapting players to specific situations on the pitch, bringing out the unexpected. Pep has got plenty of talent to work with in Manchester City and seeing how he puts it all together will be a joy to behold.
Big changes are ahead of us in the world of football…
Is Guardiola blessed or doomed to be managing in the Premier League?